Part of the challenge of cooking is to make something unpromising into something worth eating. There are few cuts of meat that present as little to the cook as a breast of lamb.
Let’s be frank here. This is not an appetising cut. It looks fatty, skinny, full of gristle and just plain unappealing. On top of all that, it’s a funny shape.
The butcher let out a small gasp when I asked for a lamb breast, before regaining her composure and selling it to me as quickly as she possibly could, in case I changed my mind at the last minute. She charged me £2.50, but I got the impression she’d have taken anything just to get rid of it.
I had a recipe in mind. Nobody buys a breast of lamb just on a whim.
This recipe does two things – it packages the breast up into a neat roasting joint, and it allows the lamb to cook slowly and gently, rendering away all of that fat, basting and protecting the meat. A tough cut is slowly lulled into tenderness.
The results are astounding, and at less than £3 on the table, it’s a complete bargain.
The breast is going to be stuffed and rolled, so ask the butcher to remove the rib bones for you. They’ll be delighted to do this for you. Anything to get a sale.
At home, mix 75g of fresh breadcrumbs, 75g of chopped dried apricots, half a tablespoon of fresh thyme leaves and the zest of one and a half lemons together in a bowl. Season genorously with salt and pepper and add enough beaten egg to bind the mix together loosely.
Spread the stuffing mix out onto the lamb breast and roll it up tightly, starting from the thin end. Do this slowly, and push the stuffing back into place if it falls out of the sides. Tie the rolled joint up with three or four lengths of string.
My joint-tying skills are very haphazard, as is evident above. If anybody out there knows how to do this sort of thing properly, I’d be very willing to learn. Just do the best you can.
Put the lamb in a roasting tray and cook in a 200c oven for half an hour to get a nice colour on the meat, then turn the temperature down to 150c.
At this point, lift the joint out of the tray and add some root vegetables, potatoes, squash, carrots, celeriac, whatever you have handy, cut into hefty chunks, tossed around in the fat and seasoned. A couple of bay leaves help, if you have them. Place the meat back on top.
Return the tray to the cooler oven and cook for a further hour and a half, basting the meat every now and again.
Let the meat rest for ten minutes before carving into thick discs and serving with the vegetables.
The meat will be tender, balanced by the sweetness of the apricots and the earthiness of the thyme. The vegetables will have soaked up their fair share of the meat juices, soft underneath, crisp on the top. This is a warming, autumnal plate of food.
This recipe is from Hugh Feanley-Whittingstall’s new book, River Cottage Everyday. Hugh cooks two breasts, enough for four. All I’ve done here is roughly halve the ingredients for the stuffing, although it’s not an exact science by any means.